An examination of the privatization of our election process and the disaster that is gerrymandering.
written by Eric Prince
Well, well, well...look what we have here. You've returned to hear more about the flaws that plague America's electoral system.
We're now less than 100 days before the general election in November, so it's really the perfect time to discuss these flaws...that is, if the election isn't delayed of course...
(Frightening stuff. It really is.)
Anyhow, I digress...
So far in this series on America's elections, we've discussed the long-standing issues with the voting system itself and with our primaries. You can read about these issues here. Long story short, both of these systems are highly flawed and they promote drama, division, and extremism in their own unique ways.
Today we'll be looking at two other causes for the obscene amount of drama and corruption we experience in America's elections:
1) The privatization of our political system.
2) The issue of a little thing called Gerrymandering (or is it Jerry Mander?)
Let's jump in.
The Privatization of EVERYTHING
The first reason our election process feels SO DARN dramatic is because EVERYTHING to do with the election is privatized.
Seriously, it’s worse than you think. Let’s check it out.
First, campaign advertising was privatized back in the 1930s and has shaped the way our entire election process operates. I’ve already written about this at length in my piece about the American News Industry, but I do love talking about it.
The first campaign advertising firm, called Campaigns, Inc. did some VERY questionable things.
But I have a better example for today.
Well, that very same Upton Sinclair ran for Governor of California in 1934 as a Democrat, but was very well known to be socialist in his views (he was even part of the Socialist Party at one point).
Sinclair's opponent in 1934, Frank Merriam, decided to hire Campaigns, Inc., a private political consulting firm, to wage a campaign war against Upton Sinclair. One of the most egregious tactics Campaigns, Inc. used was to take lines spoken by various characters in Sinclair’s books and release them as ads in various newspapers. They looked a little like this:
Yes, you read that right. Sinclair's opponent used lines from fictional characters to defeat Sinclair.
That’s like if George R.R. Martin ran for a political position and his opponent used lines spoken by characters from Game of Thrones.
Officially, these quotes AREN'T fake. Upton Sinclair DID say them…but it is a MASSIVE misrepresentation of the truth.
And it also set the stage for the continued privatization of our political system. Which leads us to our next example.
The Presidential Debates: Just Darn Good Television
The second example of our privatized electoral process is with our electoral debates.
During each election cycle, there are typically two types of debates: primary debates and general election debates.
And here's the thing...the primary debates are hosted and sponsored by private entities. I’m not kidding.
This explains why the debates for primaries only air on one channel at a time.
For example, the first Democratic Primary Debate for the upcoming election aired on NBC and was hosted by NBC. The second debate aired on CNN and was hosted by CNN.
And because the primary debates are hosted and sponsored by private entities, the debates are designed to eschew typical debate etiquette and instead grab the most viewers. Why? Because more viewers equals more ad revenue.
And, as I’ve already discussed in my piece about the American News Industry, these news corporations are focused on only one thing: MONEY.
Because of that, these news corporations are going to do what makes them the most money. They’re going to make these primary debates into a SHOWDOWN.
Fortunately, the general election debates are a little different. They're overseen by a nonpartisan nonprofit group named the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).
Unfortunately, many politicians, campaign managers, and networks still try to weasel around the CPD and exert their influence on the debates.
Politicians, campaign managers, and networks have all realized that debates don't need to contain actual facts. The only important thing is to draw the most viewers. Then, if you throw a couple of zippy one-liners at your opponent, you can win the favor of millions of Americans who have tuned in for the showdown.
Roger Ailes knew the secret to debating all the way back in 1988 when he told George H.W. Bush the following line before a debate:
Now, you might be wondering WHY any of this is allowed.
Well, part of the reason it's allowed is because the government repealed the Fairness Doctrine back in the 1980s. What’s the Fairness Doctrine you ask? Well, I’ll tell you!
The Fairness Doctrine is what used to keep the news industry in check. It required the media to present multiple sides of the same political issue. This essentially prevented media corporations from turning into bias production factories.
Unfortunately, the Fairness Doctrine WAS repealed and the media you see today WAS turned into a bias production factory.
A solution to THIS issue doesn’t seem very likely either. Both of our politics parties benefit ENORMOUSLY from the privatization of our election process. They make money. They gain power. Rinse and repeat.
It's also difficult because the federal government outsources to the private industry ALL THE TIME. It's almost impossible to separate the private industry (and capitalism in general) from our political system these days. Hell, it's the entire reason the Military-Industrial Complex even exists.
The only way the privatization issue could be fixed is if, somehow, Congress was able to pass laws restricting the private industry's involvement in our election cycle. But again, this doesn't seem likely. Why? Because...
Sure, the Republican Party may have been the first to pull the trigger on the privatization of our government (they repealed the Fairness Doctrine and were the first to use private political campaigning), but these days BOTH political parties benefit far too much to change the system.
Sigh. Oh well.
Let's move on.
The Wide Open Road of the United States
The third and final reason our election cycle feels like a boxing match is a little more amorphous than the previous two reasons.
Basically, the United States is freaking huge. It’s huge! And the distance between communities is ENORMOUS.
Check out the distance between New York City and Topeka, Kansas:
This enormous distance leads to the formation of isolated communities. And, over time, these isolated communities become QUITE different from one another. Someone in San Francisco is NOT going to lead the same life as a farmer in South Carolina. These two types of people barely interact with each other.